Alexis Pierce hasn’t had to play the role of a scorer for the Merced girls basketball team this year. The junior guard is counted on for her strong defense and ball handling, when needed.
Pierce showed she can score on Tuesday as she hit three 3-pointers and led the Bears with 15 points as Merced took sole possession of first place with a 51-44 win over Atwater at Clemons Court. The Bears (12-10 overall, 5-1 Central California Conference) moved a half game ahead of Buhach Colony, which was off Tuesday.
“The last two games, I wasn’t very good,” Pierce said. “I almost fouled out. I had to step up. Tonight I was ready to score. I don’t consider myself a 3-point shooter. My teammates tell me I should shoot more. Tonight they were just falling.”
The Bears took control of the game early with a 13-0 run in the first quarter to open up a 13-3 lead. Merced held Atwater scoreless for 6 minutes and 10 seconds.
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A big reason for the Falcons scoring drought was Merced’s 6-foot center Dalonna Jones, who blocked six shots in the first quarter. Jones just missed her second triple-double in three games, finishing with 11 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocks.
It was an ugly start for Atwater, which turned the ball over 12 times and made just two of 11 shots in the opening quarter.
“We came out flat and Merced came out on fire,” said Falcons coach J.R. Davis, whose team dropped to 12-11 and 4-2. “We couldn’t hit anything. It was like we stayed in the locker room. Our mentality must have been that we didn’t think Merced was going to come out and play.”
The Bears were up as much as 18 points in the first half before settling on a 26-13 lead at the half.
The Falcons battled back from a 14-point deficit in the second half to cut the lead to 43-38 with 5:36 left in the game after a 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter.
Mayra Mora scored a basket and drew a foul to pull the Falcons within 48-44 with 32 seconds left. Mora finished with a game-high 17 points.
The Bears struggled to close out the Falcons, turning the ball over nine times and scoring only eight points in the fourth quarter.
“I think we got a little over anxious,” Merced coach Rob Pierce said. “We turned the ball over when we didn’t need to. We forced up some bad shots. We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds. That was something we stressed in the two or three timeouts in the second half.”
Ultimately, the deficit was just too much to overcome as the Bears put themselves in the driver’s seat for the CCC title with just four games left.
“If we do what we’re supposed to do, the conference is ours,” Rob Pierce said. “Everyone else is going to have to count on somebody else. If we win out, the conference is ours.”